“His pass rush repertoire has continued to grow. I think he plays the run really well also,” Watt told reporters Thursday, according to video via the Johnstown Tribune-Democrat‘s Amanda Godsey. “He’s just continuing to get better. He doesn’t seem to be satisfied, so that’s always exciting.”
Without Watt for seven games last season, Highsmith took on a larger role on the Steelers’ defense with mixed results.
Without Watt in the lineup, Highsmith recorded just 4.0 sacks in the seven games Watt missed. That’s not a bad number overall and would have put him right around 10.0 sacks on the season if Watt had missed the entire year. However, the lack of production and splash plays was a bit noticeable from Highsmith without Watt on the other side.
When Watt was in the lineup last season though, Highsmith was a game-wrecker, recording 10.5 of his 14.5 sacks on the season and four of his NFL-leading five forced fumbles on the year. Having a true dominant player like Watt on the field certainly helped Highsmith in terms of attention paid to the other side of the defense.
Despite the breakout season, Highsmith isn’t satisfied and isn’t resting on his laurels.
He might have had more left in the tank, but he also could have played a bit better in certain matchups without Watt, like in losses to the Bills and Dolphins. Highsmith combined for just two tackles in those games.
How he attacks the offseason entering Year 4 coming off of a breakout season, which has him in line for a lucrative extension ahead of the 2023 season, will be very interesting to watch. Based on the way he’s progressed in his first two seasons as a starter opposite Watt, the sky is the limit for the Charlotte product.
Staying hungry and humble won’t be a problem for Highsmith.